5 “Simple, but Not Easy” Lessons from a George Morris Clinic

Photo by Mia Serro

BY INTERN OLIVIA TAMBURRO 

For my second clinic with George Morris, I immediately began preparing by cracking the spine of my copy of Hunter Seat Equitation and taking the stirrups off my saddle. When it came clinic time, each day we built on the exercises from the day before as we got our horses fine-tuned to George’s liking. The first day was about the basics and preparing for the more difficult work ahead. We corrected our position by lifting our hands up, and helped our horses be brave at a spooky jump. The second day was all about strength, so we dropped our irons. Finally, exhausted from the first two days, we worked on the applications of our learning on the last day. We performed specific turns and practiced changing our position in several situations.

The clearest themes from the clinic could be boiled down to the basics. “Our sport is simple, but not easy,” George told us. So, to make it simple for everyone, I decided to break the clinic down into five main points that I will carry with me in my toolbox for whatever difficult horse I come across.

Carry Your Own Hands

The first thing George looked at was the position of our hands. All of us had our hands too low. Everyone picked them up about three inches to elevate the poll, lighten the forehand, and to prevent tripping during the clinic. This was particularly difficult for me because my arms are sticks, and my biceps were incredibly sore. I also brought a hunter, who tends to go low and stretch out his neck. I found that I actually enjoyed the change, despite the throbbing pain in my arms whenever I moved them. Quinn felt less heavy in the bridle and began to carry himself.

My horse, however, was not happy with this new change and dragged me to the jumps the first day. That problem was solved after a bit change. George pulled out his “magic bit” as we call it at Crossroads (my home stable). Everyone has a “magic bit” that they believe solves every problem for the horse and George’s bit of choice is a double twisted wire snaffle, preferably a full cheek. With the bit change and the elevated hand, Quinn was much more connected and responsive, and he felt light in his mouth. George always said “leg, hand. Not hand, leg,” and with the higher hands we were on the way to that motto.

Photo by Mia Serro

Be a Tiger

On our first approach to the liverpool, I expected a refusal. I knew my horse would peek so I wanted to give him a chance to, but Quinn stopped (This was of course my fault, I hadn’t schooled it at home before the clinic because I had been showing instead). George told me to never be tentative at a spooky jump and to use the stick at the base. “Be a tiger,” he said “not a mouse.”

After the first stop, Quinn was very bold at spooky jumps and I didn’t have to worry about any accidents happening. To practice prevention, I kept using the stick at the liverpool. I remember reading on the Tamarack Hill Farm Facebook page that “Confidence comes from success, and boldness comes from confidence,” and was hoping I would reach at least a portion of the “boldness” by creating excess impulsion at the liverpool. I could trust Quinn to take me over any jump for the rest of the clinic, which eased some of my anxiety and allowed me to shift my focus to other exercises.

Stop the Overuse of the Indirect Rein

After an exhausting first day, I prepared for no stirrups day. George took off our stirrups and had us bridge the reins in the outside hand. George instructed us to put our horses on völtes (ten to twenty meter circles) to help turn with the outside rein. This kept our horses’ necks straight and allowed them to turn with their bodies, not their neck. Quinn had already been prepared for this exercise because I remembered it from last year, but others had an issue with it. George switched my friend, Haley, into a full-cheek from a pelham bit to help her turn with the outside rein. This was by far my favorite exercise because I can apply it to any horse. It made steering so much simpler for Quinn and helped me build my own strength.

Photo by Mia Serro

Correct Jumping Position

On the third day, George set a three to three combination with a solid vertical in, an airy oxer with no ground line for the second element, and an airy vertical with a false ground line for the last element. We had to “understand wrong to understand right” for our position so we jumped up the neck over the first jump, ducked over side the over the oxer, and leaned too far back over the last jump. At the end of the exercise, we went through with the correct position and everyone in the group was satisfied. Going through the common vices of jumping (on purpose) was actually really challenging for me. I have been so drilled on stay still that ducking over the side was difficult and jumping up the neck was actually impossible for me. Through this exercise I was reminded that form follows function and that it’s easier to have correct position over the jump.

Always Impulsion

George left us with an important message about impulsion. Impulsion, or willingness to go forward, was the theme of the clinic. Once we lost the impulsion we would lose all ride-ability. Many horses would lose their impulsion and George would just shout “dead!” at them until they regained it. Impulsion allowed Quinn to carry me instead of the other way around. By the end of the clinic I could trust Quinn to carry me over any jump (and just this week we chipped so awfully that I thought he would stop, but he finished). This really resonated with me because it applies to life in general. Whenever we are faced with challenges, we have to remember to go forward. Little problems like a difficult person or a late night catching up on work or homework tend to exhaust us. If we remember to continue, we will achieve much more as riders and as people in general.

Clinics are always interesting experiences for me. I love to get another opinion on my riding so I can learn something new. What’s the best thing about clinics? You can take what you liked and leave what you didn’t. Last year, I didn’t get many tools for my toolbox from this clinic. My horse was too green and unprepared so we spent most of the time fighting a “baby meltdown.” This year, my horse was ready. I was able to apply some of my knowledge from books and videos and all kinds of research so I could get the most from the clinic. My horse felt transformed by the end, and I was satisfied with the ending. I feel like I ended at a good spot with George and his teachings.